Monthly Archives: April 2010

Violence Toward Women Slowly Becoming Not OK in South Asia

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Passing laws against domestic violence may not guarantee safety for women in some parts of the world, but it is a start. Legislation has been proposed in Pakistan that would make domestic abuse illegal. It covers a broad spectrum of acts including emotional abuse, deprivation of financial means, and wrongful confinement. Currently, women can report their husbands for assault, but it is rarely punished and most often overlooked. This bill would go above and beyond covering atrocities such as acid burning, which is still extremely prevalent in Pakistan.

Another precedent was set in neighboring India last month, when the courts came down tough on the perpetrators of an honor killing. Five elders were sentenced to death or life sentences for killing a young man and woman of different sub-castes who eloped three years ago. Never before have the courts ruled so harshly on a practice that has, in the past, been considered a cultural practice. The five that were given the death sentence were the bride’s brother, cousins, and uncles. The local village administration leader was given a life sentence.

These actions are major steps toward insuring better protection of women in societies in which their intrinsic value may not be considered as great as men. However, these laws and legal precedents will only protect some, and often, those in rural areas will not benefit. Police officers tend to look the other way when horrific crimes are committed, especially in cultures like Pakistan, where ultra-conservative Islam prevails, and in India, where the caste system is still deeply engrained in societal values.

Many women in Pakistan continue to be victims of horrific abuse such as acid burnings. Their husbands and sometimes in-laws will throw acid on these women, horribly scaring them and sometimes causing blindness and permanent restrictions in movement. One woman recalled her crime for such a punishment: refusing to immediately wash the dishes after a meal.

Laws against domestic abuse will only go so far. One doctor suggested punishment for those who sell the acid as well. This is another positive step in the right direction, but even more must be done. The best way to improve the lives of these women is to improve their social standing. These areas are extremely poor and usually illiterate. Women who are victims of abuse often have no other choice but to stay with their husbands because of economic concerns. At Barakat we believe that women in Pakistan who are educated are much less likely to be victims of domestic abuse, or at the least, will not stick around in dangerous situations. If women understand their rights and their options, they hold the power to determine their futures.

The Acid Survivors Foundation, an organization based in Bangladesh, has helped some of these women restore their dignity. One woman has been learning to knit sweaters and can once again take care of her children despite damage to her eyes, which has left her completely blind. Another vows to open a beauty shop to prove to her husband and others that she is a survivor and the acid burning did not cause her to lose hope.

In India, Compulsory Education for All Children—An Identity for All People

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In the past couple of days, India has taken two major steps towards better equality for its citizens. Yesterday, a law was enacted which ensures the right to an education for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. Today, a census will begin that will hopefully document all of India’s citizens, rich and poor, and will begin the process of the issuing of national identity cards to every person.

The federal government pledged to provide sufficient financial means to implement the new compulsory education policy. It expects to spend about $35 billion over five years. It is estimated that around 8-10 million children in India, currently do not go to school. A large portion of this number comes from the poorest of India, who do not have access to schools, or the financial ability to let their children leave the home during the day. Too much of their income comes from child labor. The new law guarantees teacher trainer for one teacher every 30 children and a quarter of enrollment reserved for the most disadvantaged of India.

The government is also undertaking what India’s Federal Interior Minister called, “the biggest operation since humankind came into existence.” He was referring to the fact that no census has ever been conducted on this scale for over one billion people. The census hopes to identify housing conditions, access to sanitary water, use of technology, and the diversity of ethnicities and languages. Photos and fingerprints will also be taken for every person over the age of 15, even those with no home, living under bridges and on railway platforms. This will eventually result in the issuing of identity cards for every person.

These two initiatives represent tremendous effort of the Indian government to improve living conditions for its people. With such a large population to be concerned with, the government must understand their living conditions, let alone their sheer numbers. In order to provide any kind of infrastructure or public service, the government must know its starting point. Basic questions such as how many people live in each province, or each community are essential. How can the government know who needs better access to water, without knowing who does not currently have it? Identity cards will also help the poor to easily identify themselves in order to be eligible for certain benefits. As of right now, they often rely on ration cards, letters from local officials, and other non-official documentation. Many of these people do not even have a birth certificate.

This initiative can hopefully go hand-in-hand with the first, the right to education for all children in India. Once the government knows exactly how many children are in need of education and which schools are currently dysfunctional, they can provide new and better schools. At Barakat we are currently working on a new program in a community in Uttar Pradesh, which will bring education to the women and children there, who currently do not have access to schooling. There are countless communities just like this one in which its residents cannot get an education and who are not literate because there are simply no schools.

The follow-through of these initiatives must live up to the peoples’ expectations. If India can actually take on programs of such immensity, its people will benefit in innumerable ways.